"Great," said Ares with a sigh. "You know where she's going, right?" He could just see Aphrodite trying to walk into the Underworld, sauntering toward the gate like she owned the place, trying to pay Charon with a piece of jewelry.
"We should go after her," said Eros.
"What's the point? It's not like Hades is going to let her in. He barely even lets me in." And after tricking Charon and sneaking Jocasta out of the Underworld, the last person he wanted to see right now was Hades. Hopefully he hadn't noticed she was gone...
"But you were just there! You were in and out like it was nothing! It can't be that bad."
"Believe me," Ares said under his breath, "you don't want to go there." The Underworld was a place he preferred not to think about. It was a realm with no sense of time, no emotion, just dead neutrality. It was a hard place to put into words - shadows of shadows, drifting for miles, thinking nothing, doing nothing, being nothing.
"We said we would find her if anything happened to her," said Hephaestus, his eyes still focused on where the ship had been.
"That's rich coming from you." Ares kicked a shell by his foot, exasperated.
"I would never hurt her," he replied, trying to keep his composure by watching the waves. "She's my daughter."
"Ha," said Ares with a laugh. "Your daughter?! Didn't Thetis ever give you 'the talk'? Now, Hephaestus, when a god and goddess love each other very much-"
"Please stop," said Eros.
"She may have been your biological daughter," said Hephaestus, turning toward Ares as he spoke, his composure like iron, "but you were never her father."
Ares got up from the log and walked toward Hephaestus with a sadistic smile on his face. Maybe if Hephaestus got angry enough, Ares thought, he'd crack and drop this stupid good-guy act. "You mean like how you may have been married to Aphrodite, but you were never her husband?"
"Stop this," Eros shouted, placing himself between them, "both of you!"
"Step aside, son," said Ares, staring Hephaestus down, "this has been a long time coming."
"And what will you do to me if I don't?"
"I wouldn't do anything," said Ares, with so much anger it almost sounded like he was growling. "I'm not the one who kills his own children."
"No," Eros said, offended by the tone Ares had taken with him. after agreeing to accompany him on this nightmare journey. "You just kill other people's children."
"What did you just say to me?"
"Eros," said Hephaestus, worried for his son's safety. "Please don't put yourself in the middle of this."
"Did you really not know about Harmonia?" Eros asked, turning toward Hephaestus. "Tell me the truth."
"No, I swear to you I didn't." Hephaestus let out a long sigh. He still didn't understand how any of this was possible. If only he could swim out to sea and get away from it all.
Aphrodite loved the sea, he thought. She'd told him a long time ago that she saw the ocean as a safe place, a place of new beginnings. It was one of the things that, he thought, would bring them together - their mutual love for the sea.
"I have to see her," he said.
"I'll take you," said Eros, leading Hephaestus toward the rowboat. "I think I remember how to get there."
"Eros, get away from that boat," said Ares, rolling his eyes. How did Eros think he would get in - by making Charon fall in love with Cerberus and frolicking his way to Elysium? What did these people think the Underworld was, a garden party?
"I'm a grown man, Ares. You can't tell me what to do."
"It's my boat!"
"I can ask around for another boat," said Hephaestus, reluctant to get into another argument with Ares in front of Eros, and embarrassed that the conversation had gotten as far as it had.
Eros sighed. "Can we please borrow your boat, Ares?"
After everything that Ares had told him that night, he couldn't believe that Eros would be willing to go anywhere, let alone the Underworld, with Hephaestus. How easy would it be for Hephaestus to simply leave Eros in Elysium... slowly collecting all of his wife's children where it would be like she had never strayed... How could Eros not see this?
"OK," said Ares. "On one condition."
"I come with you."